Saturday, June 19, 2021

With the summer camp season on the horizon, the Teaneck Board of Education recently notified Camp Shalom that it was breaking its two-year agreement to lease Benjamin J. Franklin Middle School to the popular summer camp. The decision, sent by email to the camp’s directors, came as a shock to them, and has left hundreds of families who rely on the camp with no guarantee of childcare this summer.

In two separate emails to Camp Shalom’s directors, which were provided to The Jewish Link, lawyers representing the Teaneck BOE provided a range of reasons for the abrupt termination. In an initial email to the camp on March 29, lawyers for the BOE said the middle school, and all other facilities in the district, would be unavailable to the camp this summer–a fact that “it could not have reasonably known or anticipated.”

That came as a shock to Yosef Levine, a Camp Shalom board member. “We successfully held camp at the middle school in 2019, before the BOE paused and pushed off year two of our lease,” said Levine. “In all of this time, we’ve had no indication from the BOE that the school would be unavailable to us this year. On the contrary, we held multiple communications from the district that were positive in nature. We even held discussions after our first summer where we reviewed the summer and talked about a five- to 10-year lease extension and were told the business office included construction of a pool in their 2-3 capital improvement plans.”

Until recently, Levine, Camp Shalom Director Rabbi Yehoshua Gold, and the other board members fully believed that they would return to the school in 2021. According to the camp’s contract, the BOE had until September 2020 to notify the camp that it was opting out of its lease. Levine says that never happened, and moreover, he says in March of this year, BOE Superintendent Dr. Christopher Irving personally assured them that camp would proceed. “That’s what makes this so shocking,” Levine said. “We had no indication anything was wrong, and when we asked them why, their lawyers constantly shifted their rationale. It was almost as if they were trying to manufacture a reason to justify what they knew was wrong.”

Subsequent emails from the BOE’s lawyers cite a range of reasons for terminating the agreement, including a claim that the agreement did not contain an automatic renewal clause, and one that the camp’s activities had “adversely impacted” Benjamin Franklin Middle School in 2019. “They said we left equipment unattended and litter on the property, which is ridiculous,” Levine said. “We have been operating for 16 years with no complaints from any of our facilities, and our campers are always taught to leave their environment better than they found it. New locations always have a start-up process and we seamlessly worked towards a mutually beneficial experience for the district and community”

In addition to not offering a legitimate reason for terminating the lease, Levine says the BOE has refused to engage in any direct dialogue with the camp and has made no effort to provide alternative facilities in the district. “They’ve put us in an almost impossible situation,” he explained. “They’ve left us without a facility with summer right around the corner, and they’re left hundreds of families with nowhere to send their kids. I feel they owe us at least a phone call to discuss a reasonable compromise with them directly.”

For now, Levine says the camp’s directors are staying optimistic, despite the bad hand they’ve been dealt. ‘Right now, we’re focused on finding an alternative facility in Teaneck or a neighboring town. And if the BOE won’t come to the negotiating table, then we’ll seek damages for the chaos they’ve caused.”

By Jewish Link Staff


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